An offer EU cannot refuse?
Jean-Claude Juncker stood up in the European Parliament in Strasbourg and made a startling admission.
“Sometimes, not very often, I am taking wrong decisions,” he said. “Don’t laugh”, he told one MEP. Was it Nigel Farage, resplendent in his Union Jack socks?
Juncker ploughed on. “But one of the best decisions I’ve taken since being European Commission president is appointing Michel Barnier.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator nodded in agreement. Silver fox Barnier, some mean gossips say, would, if he were ice cream, eat himself.
It was a rare moment of calm in a notably raucous session on Brexit.
Earlier, Parliament President Antonio Tajani stopped looking faintly puzzled for a moment.
“I refuse to allow this debate to transform itself into a football stadium with people shouting at each other,” Tajani trumpeted.
“It took nine months to write a letter of six pages,” sniped Manfred Weber, a man to whom charisma is a stranger.
Then came Gianni Pittella, an Italian gladiator girded for battle after talk of war over Gibraltar. Mercifully, he spoke in Italian.
The gas attack in Syria showed how irresponsible former Tory leader Michael Howard was in beating the martial drum, he said.
“These are the words of lost dilettantes clutching at straws,” he howled, “You wanted to take back control but what did you want to take back control of?”
Guy Verhofstadt, Parliament’s Brexit chief, waxed metaphorical. Britain and Europe’s relationship was never a love affair but a marriage of convenience.
But one magical day in the future, the Hof predicted, Britain would be led back from the wilderness and into the promised land of the European Union.
Nigel, seated by Juncker and Barnier, rolled his eyes.
“There is a bigger world out there than the European Union,” he bellowed. “We don’t have to buy German motor cars, we don’t have to drink French wine, we don’t have to eat Belgian chocolate.”
Why have the best when you can have the rest, eh Nige?
“You are behaving like the mafia. You think we are a hostage! We’re not, we’re free to go!” he accused to howls and catcalls.
Tajani woke up. The mafia comparison was unacceptable, he said.
“I do understand national sensitivities,” Farage said, “I will change it to gangsters!”
Up stood Marcel de Graaff, of the Dutch far-right. He is the sort of chap people avoid at parties.
He began reading, very badly, Winston Churchill’s “Never Surrender” speech.
Heresy. Almost-Nazis are not allowed to quote Churchill. Where was the patriotic Brit willing to tear out his tongue and toss it to the hounds?
UKIP’s David Coburn rose to his feet. Then he realised he was a one man standing ovation and sat back down again.
Helga Stevens, of the ECR, at least spoke common sense. “Britain is an island not a boat,” she said.
“It will remain where it is.”
Germany’s president used a speech at the European Parliament to condemn a new Hungarian law that threatens the Central European University. S&D MEP Tibor Szanyi called on EPP leader Manfred Weber to do the same.
Embattled Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said he is available to attend a plenary session on 27 April, if he still has a job, despite that day being a national holiday in the Netherlands. Parliament President Antonio Tajani said the Dutchman’s recent no-show was “disrespectful”.
The EU’s man in Washington insisted that there are no signs that Donald Trump will lift US sanctions on Russia any time soon. David O’Sullivan praised the “remarkable unity of purpose” between the US and EU.
Fresh Greek bailout talks are struggling and may not yield a solution by the end of the week. Greek PM Alexis Tsipras wants a full EU summit if no deal is agreed.
Germany wants to use its G20 presidency to forge a new partnership with Africa but its anti-money-laundering efforts are undermining its objective.
Protests in Belgrade against Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s presidential election victory continued. Albania’s opposition party threated to boycott June elections if current PM Edi Rama does not resign.
France held its second presidential debate last night. Emmanuel Macron clashed with Marine Le Pen on EU matters but Jean-Luc Melenchon emerged as the most convincing candidate on the night, according to one poll.
Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.
Views are the author’s.